From the President – January, 2021

By Elaine Henson

The Kupboard Grocery, Part I

Happy New Year!  We sincerely hope, with help from the vaccines for Covid 19, that we will be able to meet in person at our History Center sometime in 2021. As of now, we are open on Fridays and Saturdays, 10am to 4 pm.

Our topic, this first month of 2021, is the Kupboard Grocery at 901 Carolina Beach Avenue, North. This rare piece of commercial real estate is amid blocks of residential property on the North End of Carolina Beach. According to the New Hanover County Tax records, it was built in 1940 which makes 80 years that it has sat between the ocean and canal on the corner of Carolina Beach Avenue North and what is now Sandpiper Avenue.

The first owner was Cornelius M. Kelley, also known as Neal.  He and his wife, Mattie, opened the store as Kelley’s Kupboard carrying a full supply of meats and groceries.   Mr. Kelley was an industrial inspector for the Hartford Insurance Company so he depended on his wife and three children to help with the store during the week, especially during beach season. The  Kelley family lived over the store.

One of his children, Ann Kelley, later married James “Jim” Watters who grew up at Kure Beach and was first cousin to Punky Kure who always called him “Son”.  Ann was a tomboy and spent a lot of her summer days at Kure when she wasn’t working at the Kupboard.  She tagged along with Jim Watters, his two brothers, Robert and Hall Watters, and Punky Kure. Eventually, the Kelleys sold the Kupboard and moved to town. Ann and Jim enjoyed 60 years of marriage until her death in May of 2006 at age 81.  The photo on the right shows Ann and Jim in front of Punky’s parents’ house on K Avenue, Kure Beach, in the late 1940s.

The second or possibly third owners were Mary and Albert Newkirk from Warsaw, North Carolina.  The Newkirk’s owned it in the 1950s.  The post card that headlines this article shows the Kupboard during the Newkirk’s ownership.  That is his Cadillac Sedan DeVille parked beside the store. You can see the double screen doors on the front and another door on the side with the living quarters above.

Our late member, Eddie Capel, had fond memories of Mr. Newkirk as his family spent summers just two houses south of the Kupboard. Eddie collected glass soft drink bottles and took them to the Kupboard to collect the 2 or 3 cents deposit on each bottle. In those days, bottles were returned to a store and were picked up by the delivery man and taken back to the bottling plant to be sterilized and reused. Kids could make spending money for candy and such by collecting bottles and returning them. Eddie’s sister, Martha Breslin, remembers that one summer she helped Eddie fill his wagon several times with bottles enough to buy their mother a birthday present.  They bought her a new lamp with their earnings.  Martha also remembers getting phone calls from their home in Apex, NC, at the Kupboard.  The caller would hold on while someone ran down to their cottage and got them to the phone. She said that the Kupboard was a center of activity for the north end, not just a place to shop for groceries.

In 1954, the Kupboard survived Hurricane Hazel with some minor damages.  The day after Hazel hit on October 15, 1954, Luke Wilson Lancaster and his wife, Jessie, bought a house just 3 doors south of the Kupboard. They bought it from Glenn Tucker on a handshake and, most likely, a deposit since the sale was not recorded at the New Hanover County Register of Deeds until April 2, 1955.  The Lancasters would become the next owners of the Kupboard. 

Mrs. Jessie Lancaster stands on the front porch of what is now 815 Carolina Beach Avenue North on October 16, 1954, the day after Hazel. 

Next month: Kupboard Grocery, Part II